If Miami Heat rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. keeps showing this level of poise, it will be difficult for Erik Spoelstra to keep him off the court.
MIAMI – Before every game, Miami Heat rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. tries to squeeze in a nap. But on the afternoon of his NBA debut Wednesday, he was too excited.
“I couldn’t even sleep,” Jaquez said after the Heat’s 103-102, season-opening win over the Pistons at Kaseya Center.
There were no signs of jitters. Jaquez, the 18th pick in June’s draft, sparkled in his first NBA game. He finished with six points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals while the Heat outscored the Pistons by four points in his 13 minutes.
The box score may seem modest, but it’s how comfortable Jaquez looked initiating offense that stood out. The 22-year-old played at his own pace, made plays for others and held his own defensively. Already, he looks the part of a rotation player for a contender and has earned the trust of the coaching staff.
On three possessions, Erik Spoelstra dialed up a play for Jaquez in the post, where he had the choice to pass to a moving Duncan Robinson or keep the ball himself.
The first instance came in the second quarter, with Tyler Herro giving the ball to Jaquez in the post and Robinson curling off a screen on the opposite end. Alec Burks denied the passing lane, so Jaquez turned and got his defender, Killian Hayes, to bite on his pump fake before finishing at the basket with a switch-hand layup.
Then, in the middle of Miami’s fourth-quarter run that opened a 19-point lead, Robinson dumped the ball into Jaquez in the post. Jaquez pivoted, waited for Robinson to curl around a Thomas Bryant screen and tossed a perfectly-timed pass right into Robinson’s shooting pocket. It was the easiest shot any Heat player had all game.
The Heat queued up the same set about a minute later. This time, Jaquez saw two Pistons in his passing lane so he put the moves on Joe Harris.
“A lot of those sets were very family to UCLA in those exact same positions so I felt very comfortable there,” Jaquez said.
Three times the Heat played through Jaquez in the low post. When was the last time you saw Erik Spoelstra trust a rookie like this?
“He has an ‘It’ quality,” Spoelstra said. “A lot of young players, either they’re going too fast or they’re only looking to score. He was making the appropriate plays. Those were three savvy plays for a young player.”
And it’s not just on offense. Defensively, Jaquez made an impact. Like this steal, which came from Jaquez studying the scouting report.
Context matters. This was against a Pistons team that won 17 games last season and has three starters younger than Jaquez, who spent four years at UCLA.
The Heat were also without Josh Richardson and Haywood Highsmith. When they return, the coaching staff will need to find minutes for them, which will push some players who played Wednesday out of the rotation.
But Jaquez was an important part of the second unit of Herro, Robinson, Caleb Martin and Bryant that helped the Heat win the game. If Jaquez keeps showing this level of poise, it will be difficult for Spoelstra to keep him off the court.
Any ramp-up in minutes is on hold for now. Jaquez, who dealt with a groin injury in the preseason, is having his playing time closely managed. But once he’s fully healthy, he could justify a bigger role.
“We have to keep those minutes where they’re at right now,” Spoelstra said. “But it’s hard not to be encouraged.”